How did the modern autonomous car come to be?Believe it or not but the first dreams of a self driving vehicle dates back all the way to the Middle Ages. The evidence for that claim comes from a sketch of Leonardo Da Vinci which illustrates a rough blueprint for a self propelled cart. The idea was to use wound up springs to propel the cart forwards.Cruise ControlThe fact that Ralph Teetor, a blind man, invented the modern cruise control still amazes many people today. Ralph Came up with the idea because of a rather interesting reason. He was driving with his lawyer one day in the late 1940s. He noticed that whenever his lawyer spoke he slowed down and when he was listening in the conversation he sped up. This annoyed Ralph, so he came up with a device that would keep the car at a constant speed. After many years of brainstorming and experimenting in his garage in 1948 he came up with his first prototype of the modern day cruise control.Through the agesAlthough Da Vinci was one of the first to dream about self driving cars, it was only until the 1920s that men actually started building these highly intelligent vehicles. Houdini Radio Control Company was one of the first to demonstrate their version of a self steering car in 1925. The vehicle was a radio controlled Chandler, the Chandler was guided by another car driving right behind it sending signals to the Chandler. The other car guided the Chandler through traffic in the highly dense roads of Broadway and Fifth Avenue, New York, without crashing or bumping to any other cars.In the 1930s men had the idea to build self driving cars en masse. During the 1939 General Motors Futurama exhibit, the public had a glimpse at the first visions of what the car manufacturers thought would be the ‘future’ of the automotive industry. They made up a lush utopia where every car would be able to drive it selves.However it was only until the 1950s that there was somewhat a predecessor to modern day autonomous technology. In 1958, Weltmore notes, a company that was obsessed to build something never seen before, built their first version of a self driving car. The grand idea was to place a “pick up coil” in front of a Chevrolet. The coil could sense the changing current of a wire embedded inside of the road and would stear accordingly to make sure the vehicle would stay above that embedded wire. The car managed to drive down a two lane road and turn into a bank without the driver ever touching the wheel.70sNearing the end of the 1970s Tsukuba Mechanical Engineering Lab, located in Japan, created the first truly autonomous car. The car had the ability to drive around a track with white lane markings at a phenomenal speed of 32 km/h. It did this by calculating the distance to the white markings and then steer accordingly to stay in the middle of the lane. This might not sound like a groundbreaking speed but considering the speed and efficiency of commercial computers back in the 70s it was quite an achievement.80sA modified Mercedes-Benz van brought the autonomous car to the next level. An aerospace engineer called Ernst Dickmanns and his team, working at the Universität der Bundeswehr in Munich, equipped the Mercedes van with sensors, cameras and computers which managed to take the van to a staggering 100 km/h using vision guidance. The same idea was used for another three generations of guidance systems. Then at the fourth generation the van was succeeded by the Mercedes 500SEL, modified with more modern cameras, sensors and computers. The car managed to drive fully autonomous through the streets of Paris in 1994. These days Dickmanns’ autonomous car is seen as the pioneer of modern safety-assistance technology of today.ALVINN (Autonomous Land Vehicle In a Neural Network) was the entry from two university students to the Udacity Self-Driving Car Challenge. The basic idea was to collect a lot of data from human driving and use deep learning, where it would look at each frame and then learn from it. ALVINN had a quite miserable top speed of 5.5 km/h however ALVINN had a compute power of a 100 MFLOPS (which is ten times less than today’s iWatch). Despite the small compute power, ALVINN was used as a test vehicle for a number of years. Then in the early 90s, after constantly improving ALVINN they managed to increase the top speed to a 112 km/h! 90sIt was only until the 90s that universities and research institutes were able to make big strives in autonomous technology. In 1995 Carnegie Mellon University’s Laboratory had an extremely ambitious project: project No Hand Across America. Only just looking at the title you already know what the aim of the project was, to build an autonomous car that could drive the whole length of the US (from east to west). The team took a 1990 Pontiac Trans Sport and fitted sensors to the car. The car drove 98.2% autonomously, a 5000 km journey from Pittsburgh to Los Angeles. There was only one downside of the journey, the car still needed a human to operate the throttle and brakes. However the journey was still an enormous leap forward in self driving technology.21st Century10sThe development of technology in the last 10 years have accelerated tremendously. AEB (Autonomous Emergency Braking) systems have taken off. It is understandable why, the system can apply the brakes in case there might be a potential crash or accident. Another feature of some of today’s cars is lane departure. This handy piece of tech can keep the car between the white lines, handy if you accidentally stray from the lines. Despite of all of this technology the driver still remains in full control of the car, he can if he wishes ignore these ‘warnings’ and keep going on his current path. There have been a few cars that do drive completely autonomously. The Volvo S90 has a driving assistance system which can control the steering of the car under 50 km/h and can control the acceleration and braking under 130 km/h. Another and more impressive example is TESLA. They have developed mass produced cars with the technology to drive completely autonomously on the motorways. But the driver still has to keep his hands on the wheel because of the law.FutureLooking to the future the road to fully autonomous cars isn’t that far away. NVIDIA CEO, Jensen Huang, and Intel CTO, Justin Rattner, say that before 2022 there will be fully autonomous cars on the road and all of the legal issues regarding the safety of autonomous cars will also be solved by then. Around 2020 Audi, Volkswagen, Ford, BMW, Toyota, GM, Nissan, Continental, Jaguar, Land-Rover and of course Tesla will all be producing fully autonomous cars, how exciting! Some experts say that by 2028-2032 the autonomous car will have thoroughly populated the roads of the world.